“HOW DO WE SPEAK THE UNSPEAKABLE?” (Jn 1:1-18): 31 December 2007 (Monday)
When the philosopher Blaise Pascal died in 1662, a mysterious scrap of paper was found hidden in the lining of his coat. It was a record of a deep religious experience that had happened to him eight years before. Pascal wrote about that experience and since then kept that record close to his heart. Here are Pascal’s words:
“In the year of Grace, 1654,
On Monday, 23rd of November,
Feast of St. Clement, Pope and Martyr,
and of others in the Martyrology,
Vigil of Saint Chrysogonus,
martyr and others,
From about half past ten in the evening
until about half past twelve
God of Abraham, God of Isaac,
God of Jacob
not of the philosophers and scholars.
Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.
God of Jesus Christ.”
Something intense and powerful happened to Pascal that Monday night, and it had lasted for two whole hours. But all Pascal could say was: “FIRE.” He had encountered not the labels and descriptions of God as provided by the philosophers and scholars, but the deep mystery that might have been God himself. Pascal came out of that experience not with a conceptual knowledge about God, but a deep personal knowledge of God.
Today we are offered the magnificent hymn at the beginning of St. John’s Gospel that names Christ as the ‘Word’: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
What a strange metaphor the early Christians used to refer to the Son of God: the metaphor of speech, the Word. The mystics among us know that God’s silence is profoundly too deep to put into words. And the prophets in our midst know that human words are hopelessly too brittle to capture the infinitely vast reality of God.
The late Anthony de Mello, the controversial Indian Jesuit mystic, writes that whenever we speak of God, we should be mindful that we don’t know of God morethan we know of him precisely because God is profound mystery. To be facile in speech and to have a loosened tongue while speaking of God is to lack reverence. To mistake our inadequate words and concepts about God for God himself is to commit idolatry. de Mello explains this by saying that to do so would be like the fool who mistakes for the moon itself the finger pointing to the moon.
And so today, the last day of the year, my question to God is: “How can you be called the Word? How can we speak the Unspeakable?”
At Christmas God has transcended his transcendence to make himself knowable and accessible. Yet being God, he remains utterly incomprehensible. But then every person, after all, is also a mystery, and the person of Jesus Christ is also one such mystery. As the year draws to a close, let’s remind ourselves of the great mystery that is in every human person–that even if we feel we know a person, there always remains a part of that person–the very heart of every person–that is mystery, ultimately unfathomable and unsayable. May we then begin this new year by looking at others with renewed wonder and respect, even and especially those we think we already know.
As the year draws to a close, let’s also remind ourselves of the great mystery within us, that vast inner universe within ourselves that we can’t completely understand and express. May we then begin this new year by looking at this mystery unfolding within ourselves with greater awe and daring so that we will be able to explore it even more deeply in the coming year.
And finally, as the year ends today, we also turn to the Mystery of Mysteries, God who is himself our deepest desires, our first thirst. Often we don’t know that it is God we most seek and desire, so we run around in our lives like headless chickens, going after all sorts of things of this world.
Lord Jesus, as this year comes to a close, I ask you to help me realize that deep within the layers upon layers of my often-confllicting desires, it is you I most seek and desire. And help me realize that though my knowledge and understanding of you will never be complete, I am still called to speak of you even if my fragile words can never capture you because as the Incarnate Word, you are depth unfathomable, ultimately unsayable and unspeakable.
In the new year to come, may I strive to seek you always in all things, even in the most ordinary. For in every experience, every thought, every emotion, you speak to those who strain their ear.